03/26/2015 03:17 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Head of Alberta unit that investigates police shootings tries to reassure public

EDMONTON - The head of a unit that investigates police in Alberta is trying to reassure people following three officer-involved shootings in the past 10 days.

Alberta Serious Incident Response Team investigators are reviewing the March 16 fatal shooting of Anthony Heffernan by Calgary police. They are also investigating another shooting by an officer in the city and by RCMP in Wetaskiwin.

Susan Hughson, executive director of the unit, said her staff are doing a good job despite a growing number of cases.

"Everybody is concerned when there are three officer-involved shootings over a short period of time, but nothing that I have seen suggests that these specific investigations are not being handled properly," Hughson said Thursday.

Hughson, a former Crown prosecutor, said her staff is investigating 25 cases so far this year, compared to 53 in 2014.

The number of investigations has risen steadily since 2008, when ASIRT reviewed 21 files.

Hughson said she has requested more employees to handle more complex investigations, including cases that require surveillance and wiretaps, but doesn't expect to get them because of the provincial government's budget crunch.

"There is nobody who does not understand the need, but as with anything, it is a balancing of a budget, and there are other needs out there, so I am not optimistic at this time that that will come through."

Heffernan's family is raising questions about his death and supporters are planning to rally in Calgary on April 4.

Relatives say the 27-year-old recovering drug addict was shot four times by officers after failing to check out of a motel on time.

Last Saturday, a Calgary officer shot and critically injured Morgan Thompson, 30, in an alley shortly after he taunted demonstrators at an anti-racism rally. Police said he confronted the officer with a metal pipe.

On Monday, a 40-year-old man was taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries after he was shot by at least one RCMP officer in Wetaskiwin, south of Edmonton.

ASIRT was formed by the province to review incidents involving the death or injury of people that resulted from the actions of police, or other serious cases involving police.

The government says ASIRT ensures excellence and independence in investigations on files that are forwarded to it by Alberta's justice department.

The team does not investigate complaints from the public.

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